I mentioned in my last article that I have received questions about altering lace wedding gowns. With the 2013 wedding season quickly approaching, I wanted to start answering them so you have enough time to do the work.
One question I received: what to do with the lace if you are taking in a dress? In other words, how do you make the lace look as if the pattern is not broken up? Lace comes in many different forms and each are treated differently.
Chantilly, organza, and tulle laces are very popular on gowns right now, probably because they are the least expensive. These are very lightweight and are treated like any other fabric. They are usually placed over satin and you treat the two layers as if they were one. Take your cues from the original construction.
If the lace layers are separate from the satin or lining, then you treat the lace like any other fabric. Generally, you don’t worry about matching up the pattern when doing the alteration because it wasn’t matched up in the first place. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to match up.
The more expensive gowns will have Alencon, re-embroidered Alencon, or Venice laces. These laces are fun because they are made to cut up and put back together again. You really have a lot of creative control about how you want the lace to look. Because these laces tend to be more substantial, they can have beads and sequins attached as well.
The first thing you want to do before starting your alteration is to try taking some of the lace apart to see how it is stitched and to see how the beading is attached. Sometimes the beading is part of the lace and you treat it as such.
Sometimes the beading is applied after the dress is completed and the stitching goes through layers of lace and satin and even the underlining. In this case, you must remove the beading and tie off the ends of the threads that attach the beads. Otherwise as you work, you will lose more beads. Sometimes, extra beads are sent along with the dress or they are a standard bead which can be easily replaced, so don‘t worry if you break a few. Be careful not to break the thread, though!
The lace will either be sewn as the Chantilly laces (see above) or will be a separate application, usually hand-stitched onto the satin. In this case, you need to remove the stitching so the lace is hanging loose. Loosen the lace past the new stitching lines. So, if you are taking in the seams ½ inch, you will need to unstitch the lace ¾ to 1 inch on either side of the seam to allow room to make your new seam.
When you have unstitched the lace, take in the other layers as you would any other dress. Make sure the other layers fit nicely. Always have your fitting before you continue. You don’t want to have to do the next steps again.
Once you are satisfied with the fit, you get to play. We who sew are generally creative people so this is fun for us. You don’t have to place the seam of the lace in the same location as the rest of the dress layers. You can mix and match the lace until it looks good to you by overlapping, folding, or as a last resort, cutting up the pattern. I say “last resort” because I always want to alter a dress so it can be let out again (either for a future bride or a special anniversary). I try to leave as much of the original lace as possible.
When the pattern looks good to you, then hand stitch the lace in place, either to itself or to the satin. Also, if you have extra lace (maybe you have hemmed the dress), you can use extra cut-outs to “patch” the pattern.
And now for the “tease”: my next column will show the entire process of revamping a vintage lace gown. I promise to have before, during, and after pictures for that article. The wedding is at the end of the year so I have to wait until after the first of the year to print the pictures. Until then, be sure to contact me either here or at my email address if you have any questions.
Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or email@example.com.